• Tim Wade

Saving girls from sex traffickers

Saving girls from sex traffickers during COVID-19 – Tim Wade interviews Nicky Mih from Free To Shine

It’s amazing what this woman is doing and right now she needs our help. Here’s the interview in video and in text. Please choose to watch it (15 minutes) or read it now and see how a tiny action can make an amazing difference.

Tim Wade Hi, everyone, it’s Tim Wade here. And today we’re going to talk a little bit about giving and worthy causes. And this impact, this global impact of isolation and viruses and business and market collapses and all this sort of stuff, how is it impacting giving? How is it impacting worthy causes? How is it impacting the people out there on the ground doing amazing stuff in the world? So I have the managing director and co-founder of Free To Shine, a worthy cause that does a lot of work in Cambodia. And with me is Nicky, me Nicky, Welcome. Welcome. I think this is a show, so welcome to the show. Nicky Mih Thanks for having me on the show, Tim. Tim Wade Yes. Well, it’s a show now. So can you, first of all, tell us a little bit about what is Free To Shine and what does Free To Shine do, just for the people out there that don’t know?

Nicky Mih Yes, I run a child protection organisation over in Cambodia, specifically keeping girls safe from exploitation and commercial sex trafficking. So I have a team of education officers and social workers who go out into 59 different rural villages doing safety visits. Tim Wade Okay. And so the purpose is to keep girls out of the sex trafficking trade, from being trafficked? Nicky Mih It’s to prevent, yes. So when traffickers come through villages looking for girls, they will specifically target families living in extreme poverty. And one of the ways that they can identify a family who are most likely to take the risk of letting their child go for a fake job offer is for them to find girls who are not in school. Because if the girl’s not in school, getting her education, then the family are looking for work opportunities, and they don’t always assess properly, those opportunities, whether they’re real and whether they’re safe. Tim Wade So these people are going to those families, making a fake job offer, and basically stealing their daughter once she goes off for that work interview or whatever it is. Nicky Mih Yeah, they’ll talk about it being good job working with a nice family in the city, and they’ll send over a salary, but they’ll keep her commission for finding them that job. But of course, that job isn’t actually real. It can happen that way. It can also happen by the family sending girls off to workplaces that are unsafe. And then when that workplace becomes no longer viable or isn’t working, they move on to the next one, and the next one, and they move from unsafe to unsafe environment. Until they’re on the fringes of the sex industry, which might be near karaoke bars, massage parlours, and beer gardens. And when they’re not earning enough money, they’re offered to do sex work. So sometimes it works that way. It depends on the age of the child and the situation of the family. Tim Wade That’s amazing work that you’re doing. How many girls have you helped get back into school? Nicky Mih In total: over 750. Tim Wade And are you getting them out of the sex trade and putting them back in school, or are you stopping them going into the sex trade in the first place? Nicky Mih No, I thought that’s where I was going to start. Ten years ago I went over to explore what was needed and how maybe I would be able to help. I spent a month in a rescue centre and those survivors asked me to go out to rural villages and find girls who were not in school and help get them into school so that they will be safe, in school. That’s when I realised that all these organizations are rescuing girls and getting them out of the sex trade, but nobody’s actually going into the villages and stopping the next girls going in. I couldn’t find an organisation out in the rural villages who was doing that. Tim Wade So you started Free To Shine. Nicky Mih I did. Tim Wade Wow. That is amazing. Your story of how you got into this in the first place is also an amazing story. In fact, that’s in your book, right? What’s your book — Nicky Mih My book is called Do What Matters. Tim Wade Right. Nicky Mih Pretty timely for right now as well. In it are 34 different leadership lessons. There are lessons for life and leadership; in your business, with your family, and in the world. And now’s a pretty good time for people to want to look at those kinds of things. Tim Wade And they’ve got time to read because they’re all stuck at home. Can they buy that on Amazon, by the way? Nicky Mih Yes. So if you’re in Australia, you can buy it directly from my website, it’s probably the easiest and best way to do it, which is: https://freetoshine.org/dowhatmatters. And if you’re elsewhere around the world, then Amazon is the best place to get it from. Tim Wade Got it. Okay, great. And so tell me: in the last couple of months, the world’s come to a grinding, isolated halt. And in some parts of the world, they are talking about closing down schools, and some parts of the world already have. And while that plays a huge dynamic on parents working from home, and with their kids being around it changes that a little bit more, but we fail perhaps to think about what it does for organisations like yours whose entire goal is to get the girls in school so that they’re not being picked up by sex traffickers. Nicky Mih Exactly. And we don’t know what effect it’s going to have. We’ve never ever, around the world, been in this situation before. So I don’t have a crystal ball; I can’t say. But it is a really uncertain time for us at the moment. Because across the world where people are losing their jobs, struggling to pay their mortgage, thinking about how to homeschool their kids, all these things that are on their mind. When they start to look through their budget of where they might cut things, they might ask themselves, “Do I really need to be giving to this thing over in Cambodia right now?” It’s sort of: out of sight out of mind, you know? So sometimes their giving can be the first thing that gets cut. And that has massive impacts on keeping our staff working with the girls; for keeping the girls and the family safe. Then if you think of the actual health implications of this and how Western and developed countries are struggling with this… In Cambodia, right now, the numbers of infections are low. However, we don’t know if that is an accurate number or not, because it’s primarily tourists that have been in the country that got those tests. So there’s very few actual Khmer that have been tested. So it could actually be a lot higher than it is. We also know from the other countries – I’m in Australia right now – of how it starts low and how it develops very quickly and spreads very quickly. And we’re saying around the world and here in Australia, “stay at home, stay at home, self-isolate.” Well, when we self isolate, we self isolate and brick concrete buildings where there’s maybe two, three or four people that live in that building. In the villages and with the families that we support, they’re in rural communities living incredibly close to each other, maybe six people in one room, and that room is made out of woven palm leaves. So it’s probably not going to offer the same level of protection. So whilst it’s not sweeping through those villages, yet, when it does, I think it’s going to sweep through far faster than it does through Australia and the UK and Singapore. Tim Wade Are you worried about schools closure and the girls being sent back home? Nicky Mih Yeah, I’m worried about many of the girls that we work with. Their primary caregivers are grandparents who are at the greatest risk here. So some of our girls are going to lose their grandparents; lose their primary caregiver. And yes, schools in Cambodia closed just over a week ago. Tim Wade Oh, wow, so it’s already happened. Nicky Mih It’s already happened. So schools in Siem Reap city closed first, two weeks ago. Then schools in Phnom Penh closed and then, the next day, schools right across the country closed. Because whilst they don’t believe that children will get particularly sick from it, they’re likely to get it at school and give it to their grandparents. It’s an effort to protect them. So then our safety visits became really, really important, like critically important, as you said. So it’s so important that we do that. But then the whole self-isolation-stay-at-home applies to workplaces too. So we were actually stopped on Monday, two days ago. We were stopped two days ago from going out conducting our safety visits. So the girls have been without safety visits for 48 hours. This only ever happened once in the history of Free To Shine, and 59 girls were lost in that time. It took us 12 months to locate and ascertain the safety of those 59 girls. And we only actually managed to find an ascertain the safety of 57. So this right now is an incredibly scary time for the families that we work with. At the moment staff are conducting phone-call checks with them. The girls and families that we work with don’t have phones, but we always have a phone number for somebody in the village who can take the phone to them and we can have a conversation with them, but we can’t actually go and give practical and tangible support right now. I’m hoping we’re able to get out there pretty quickly. But it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to. So what I have to hope really is that Cambodia goes on lockdown very quickly, because providing nobody’s coming in and out of those villages, it will be okay. Tim Wade So the traffickers will be locked out as well. Nicky Mih Exactly. Tim Wade Are you noticing the funding that you’re getting from givers is less? You mentioned that it’s one of the discretionary expenses that people might be looking at cutting. Are you noticing that in your organisation; that it has dropped in the last month? Nicky Mih I think we’ve only really noticed people becoming unemployed since Friday afternoon when the schools closed in England, and then on Sunday a lot of announcements were made as well as on Monday and last night, so I think people have literally started losing their jobs in the last 48 hours. Tim Wade So you haven’t felt it from a financial perspective yet, but you’re expecting it to happen. Nicky Mih Not yet, and I don’t know whether we’re going to take a 10% hit or 50% or 70%. I don’t know. And we’ve got to try to plan for that. Tim Wade Yep. So for anybody watching one of my calls to action or appeals will be: “If you can continue to help or if you can increase your giving, now would be a great time to do it; whatever you can offer.” And some of the giving that we do is through B1G1, and Free To Shine is one of the worthy causes on the B1G1 platform, you can always connect with B1G1.com and become a member there. Or directly through Free To Shine presumably. Nicky Mih There’s a donate page at: https://www.freetoshine.org/sponsor Tim Wade Brilliant. Yeah, if you can do it… You know what, even if individuals are coming out here and going, “I can give 10 bucks a week,” and enough individuals choose to do that, it’s going to make a big, big, big difference. What does $10 do? Nicky Mih We can provide seeds so that they can grow their own food. That’s going to be really important during this time where, in many families, people are going to lose their daily jobs. And so I think providing more and more seeds for them to grow vegetable gardens is going to be critically important. Access to safe drinking water: they’re going to need water filters. And the safety visits: we need to be making sure that the children are safe. So we need education officers and social workers checking in with them. Hopefully, that will be in person but if it cannot be in person for a short period of time, is going to have to be phone calls. It’s too important for it to not happen. So, if we’re not able to keep our staff, we’re not going to be able to keep doing that. Tim Wade So, if you don’t mind me asking, how much would a caseworker or a social worker cost each day to keep them employed and working? Nicky Mih So for a girl on our program to access all the support she needs, it costs about $1.50 a day. It’s about $45 a month.

Tim Wade Wow. So if somebody could just sponsor $1.50 a day, or $45 a month… this is USD, right? Nicky Mih AUD, we’re even cheaper. Tim Wade Oh, Australian dollars. So A$45 a month – it’s A$1.50 a day – that protects one girl. So if each of us watching could just protect one girl, we can make a massive difference. Nicky Mih Oh, huge. Tim Wade I guess the challenge here is … I don’t know what my call to action is apart from: “Can individuals make a difference here?” Because some of the businesses are going to be cutting some of these costs as well. So whoever’s watching can say, “You know what, I can do that. Let’s keep a girl safe.” Nicky Mih Even if they’re in a position where they don’t know if they can do it long term. We know we’re going to have some sponsors that can’t afford to maintain their sponsorship. So if somebody wanted to jump in, they could take it over for six months. Even that would help. Tim Wade So a six-month commitment: it’s less than $300. It’s A$270 over six months, that’s amazing. Okay look, Nicky, I know you have to go to your next meeting but thank you so much for being here. Nicky Mih Thanks for having me on your show, Tim. Tim Wade You’re welcome. Yeah, we have a show! Okay, so all the best. I hope some positivity comes out of this. And thank you for doing what you’re doing on behalf of everybody. Good luck and thanks, Nicky. Nicky Mih Thanks, Tim. I’ll talk to you soon. Tim Wade And for everybody watching/reading this, please: Click buttons. Make a decision. Help out if you can. Like Nicky said, even if it’s just for six months, that A$270 bucks is going to make a massive difference. So if you could help, that’d be great. If you’re interested in doing that, the link is: https://www.freetoshine.org/sponsor

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